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Because of the primary focus of my books and many of my article topics I tend to get tagged as the fat-loss guy more often than not; but nutrition and training for muscle gain is actually a primary interest of mine.
In this article (which will actually form an introduction to a series of articles I’ll be doing over the next several weeks and months), I want to talk about some basic concepts related to mass gaining nutrition, primarily looking at some of the different philosophies of mass-gaining that are out there.
And, of course, I’ll give my own recommendations for what I think is actually optimal for most trainees under most circumstances.
In the olden days of bodybuilding, the standard approach to gaining muscle mass was to get big and fat in the off-season and this was called bulking.
Both approaches revolve around the same concept: trainees train their balls off and eat as much as they can force down, gaining weight (and body fat) rapidly. I’d note that, to some degree, this idea still exists today among some professional bodybuilders.
There are also a good many stories of big strong powerlifters dieting down to seriously amazing bodybuilding levels of leanness and development.
But the GFH approach to mass gain can backfire badly for naturals as there are biological limits to both the rate of muscle gain (per day or per week) as well as the maximum amount of muscle a natural lifter can carry. Athletes can’t usually afford to get that fat in the first place (performance suffers) and excess fat gain while gaining muscle mass for bodybuilders just means that much longer of a diet to get it back off. Even for non-competitive bodybuilders, assuming the trainee is actually training for appearance reasons, getting excessively big and fat for part of the year really isn’t consistent with that goal.
I should note that, for very skinny folks or those looking for the most rapid rate of gain to reach their genetic limits, there is something to be said for the GFH philosophy.
At the other extreme is the near obsession with lean-gaining, the idea being that folks are going to gain muscle mass without putting on an ounce of body-fat. Lean gaining is usually based around insanely meticulous calorie and nutrient counting and timing, an obsession with clean eating, etc. The benefits of the lean-gaining approach, mind you, are that you get to look great year round; of course if your goal is contest bodybuilding (or sports), it also means literally no dieting time. Athletes often have to add muscle mass (to improve strength, power or move up a weight class) and often don’t have very long to do it. The simple fact is that the body needs not only an appropriate training stimulus but also sufficient building blocks (protein, amino acids) AND sufficient dietary energy (calories) for maximal improvements.
Another drawback to the whole lean-gaining thing is that the meticulous attention to nutrition every day can drive people crazy. The lowered calorie periods limit or reduce fat gains while the high-calorie periods support growth and gains. Before getting to that, I need to discuss something that will not make a lot of readers happy.
Magazines advertise 20 pounds or rock hard muscle in a mere 8-10 weeks, a supplement promises 5 lbs of muscle in 3 days or whatever; all around we see claims of rapid gains in muscle mass. I’d note that, under the right conditions (usually underweight high school kids), much faster rates of gain are often seen or reported. I bring this up as it has some relevance to the weekly rate of weight gain that is acceptable for what I’m going to describe next. As noted above, there’s no doubt that gaining some fat will allow a faster rate of muscle gain. The solution of course is to simply alternate shorter periods of mass-gaining (let’s not use the term bulking since it seems to cause people so many mental problems) where the goal is maximal muscle gains while accepting small amounts of fat gain before dropping into a short dieting phase to strip off the fat without losing any of the muscle gain. This idea isn’t new mind you, and has probably been around for 30-40 years or more (McCallum wrote about it in The Keys to Progress and Dan Duchaine was an advocate of this approach). Bodybuilders with contest aspirations might even start out a little bit leaner, perhaps 8% for males and 17-20% for females; this is simply to facilitate getting into contest shape in less time.
Of course, the diet itself is a completely separate topic, some prefer to lose as slowly as they’ve gained, others are using the ideas in my Rapid Fat Loss Handbook to strip off the fat as rapidly as possible so that they can get back to gaining again. Let me summarize the above a little more briefly: trainees should set a bottom and top-end for acceptable body fat levels. I guess I just wondering if you 10%-15% target is geared towards a younger trainer under mid 30’s? This article says an average male trainee can gain about 24 pounds a year of LBM while a female may gain about half that. Somewhere else it’s said that the average male trainee, strictly natural, can gain 24 pounds of LBM in his first year of serious training, but next year he can expect at most half of that. So, yes, as folks get more advance, the rate of weight gain may have to slow to account for genrally slower rates of gain in muscle mass. So far as the age thing, there are plenty of guys stepping on stage in contest shape who are older (Hell, I prepped a female at 44 to 7%) so it can be done. Perhaps this is just a simplified UD2.0, but I have found it very appealing psychologically due to its simplicity. Although I have trained for 10 years so getting 26 more pounds would probably take 6-10 more years if I am abl to gain that much more.


As well, my comment about muscle mass not being the same as lean body mass was more referring to the fact that lean body mass includes things like water, bone, organs, glycogen and a lot of stuff that isn’t actual contractile tissue. I’m glad you spelled out that last point as many confuse this issue, contractile protein accrual vs.
What do you mean when you say should be broken up into at least two separate training blocks?
In the context of the comment above, what I mean is that you wouldn’t try to do one straight 16 week cycle of training where you try to push up poundages and work yourself to death the entire time.
How about not doing little bulk and diet phases, but just running at some reasonable male appearance level (10%) and just allowing weight to creep up say a pound a month (would be 12 pounds in a year). After my fat loss (I started at 20%+ in January, trying to get down to 8%, I have gone from 205->178 to date I will definitely continue the times at maintenance. I don’t really understand the difference between increasing lean body mass and skeletal muscle.
Are there any benefits of eating more on training days and less on non-training days during a mass gaining phase? Even if you vary your hypertrophy-style training, after a few weeks, it seems your body gets tired of trying to put on mass.
Please could you elaborate a bit more why a consolidation (“hardening phase”) is required after a mass gain phase? I can understand that a maintenance phase after dieting will help to prevent rapid fat gains caused by elevated hormones. I am a 40 year old, mom of 3 kids – figure competitor, headed to nationals after reviewing pictures from last show clearly I need to add muscle, development of legs more and some size upper body.
Good article , however I think that bulking up too quickly puts too much pressure on joints and tendons (because of incerasing the weight used) and digestive system (excessive amounts of food eaten).
Also if someone is an overweight female, novice and on calorie deficit, will the stored fat help in building muscle, or is the muscle building rate non existent due to calorie deficit? Enter your address to receive weekly site updates, special book offers, and advanced notice of new books. Having worked with bodybuilders, powerlifters and other athletes over the years, figuring out how to put muscle mass on them (in terms of both training and nutrition) is obviously important. As usually, I’ll look at each in my normal way, looking at the various pros and cons of each approach.
In the old days, guys would then diet like maniacs and there are stories of guys bulking up to over 300 pounds before dropping to sub-200 pounds for their contest. Dave Gulledge is a particularly good example, here’s pictures of him before leaning out and after.
When the trainee gets the fat off (which may take a year or more depending on the degree of fatness), assuming they don’t diet too badly and lose all the muscle, they often look absolutely amazing. Between increasing the amount of muscle mass gained while the folks in question get big and fat (and increasing the total amount of muscle that can be held) to sparing muscle loss while they diet off 150 pounds of lard, the drugs make a huge difference. Simply, I don’t think this is generally ideal for the natural bodybuilder or athlete to gain muscle mass. As mentioned above, and discussed below, given a maximum weekly rate of muscle gain, gaining weight at too fast a rate simply means that much more fat is being gained without increasing the rate of muscle mass gain. Some supplements actually catered to this and the big fad in the 90’s were low-calorie mass gainers, products that claimed to magically put muscle on people without providing excess calories.
If you model or make your living based on your physique, being able to do a photo shoot within a few weeks (or days) notice may be financially beneficial as well.
I discuss this in some detail in Calorie Partitioning Part 1 and Calorie Partitioning Part 2. Of course, bodybuilders are usually a bit nutso anyhow and orthorexia is a very real eating-disorder. There’s more flexibility, trainees get some big-eating periods (helping to stave off insanity and binges) and there are other benefits of them for people who are determined to stay lean year round but want to actually gain some muscle mass. I’d note that that will generally only happen in the first year of training and things slow down after that.
The drawback is that, gain too much fat and dieting time is extended and appearance suffers. What’s ideal for most situations in my experience is to try to maximize muscle gain (smart training, slight caloric surplus) by allowing a small amount of fat gain to occur.
First and foremost, for reasons outlined in my article Initial Body Fat and Body Composition Changes, trainees should not be starting out their muscle gaining phase too fat.
It would be ideal, if, after dieting, the trainee took two weeks at maintenance to stabilize at the new body fat level.
When the trainee hits a body fat percentage of approximately 15% for men (24-27% for women), the mass gaining phase should end.
For the female trainee, at one half-pound per week is nearly a year of training; again that would be broken up into distinct training phases.


Both are valid and my article series on Fat Loss for Athletes is worth reading for more information. I would presume that you wouldn’t be gaining muscle during these periods these periods (perhaps a quarter of the year???) . We know that it’s possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time by following the right kind of diet, training heavy, using the right supplements, and sleeping enough every night. I can bulk longer about a year and a half I wouldn’t have to do those mini cuts am i correct please explain. It’s also a lot of fun to just eat and eat and eat and not care where the calories come from.
That’s on top of other potential negatives of the GFH approach such as stretch marks and the potential to permanently increase the bodies set point (making it harder to get and stay lean when you diet back down). And they did increase lean weight but only because they all contained creatine which increases lean body mass (via water retention) by several pounds.
This tends not to represent the majority of obsessives who try to use the lean-gaining approach. Staying excessively lean (which means either doing tons of cardio, restricting calories, or both) isn’t consistent with the goal of trying to get stronger and more muscular for the most part.
But worrying about every gram of everything that you eat every day of your life can drive some people insane (more insane); it also triggers some awesome binges when they lose control for even a second. Yeah, with glycogen loading or creatine you can increase lean body mass (not the same as muscle mass) fairly rapidly but beyond that, skeletal muscle actually grows fairly slowly. It’s simply awful compared to what people think they are going to get based on the false promises in the magazines (or the claims of drug using bodybuilders). Trainees may go a long time with no measurable gains and then wake up several pounds heavier seemingly overnight. And, occasionally, when the stars are right, and everything clicks, a true one pound per week of muscle mass gain may be seen for short periods.
A female may be gaining about half that much, 1 pound per month of actual muscle tissue or 10-12 pounds per year. And while staying lean is nice from an appearance standpoint, trying to stay too lean all the time tends to hurt mass and strength gains because the trainee simply can’t eat enough.
While this causes the trainee to get fatter (this should be done without getting outright FAT), this also maximizes the rate of muscle gain. And, yes, this means that many will have to diet first before they even consider putting on muscle. The reasons for this are numerous but revolve around letting some of the hormonal adaptations to dieting normalize.
How long this take will depend on the size of the person but realistically, a 170 pound male trainee with 10% body fat could gain 16 pounds (8 pounds fat, 8 pounds muscle) before hitting the 15% mark.
Diet down until you hit the low end, stabilize for two weeks, gain until you hit the high end, stabilize for two weeks, then diet back down while keeping the muscle. Hence the amount of possible muscle gained would be somewhat lower than the 24-26 lbs quoted. Though I do not discuss things such as how to buy Phentermine, I do go into great detail about which products you should use and which you should not use. Dieting is a little bit more sane now and it usually takes a good 6-12 months for the fat boys to get lean again.
While dieting, of course, the goal should always be to limit muscle mass losses (as outlined in pretty much any of my books). I’ve written about this endlessly on the site and my full diet break concept is outlined in detail in both The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook and A Guide to Flexible Dieting.
There will be some fat gain, of course, but, simply, any faster rate of weight gain (I’ve seen folks suggest 2-3 pounds per week) will only increase fat gain without increasing the rate of muscle mass gain.
Over many months or a year of training, you should end up with more muscle than you started with which is the whole goal.
In my experience, switching the focus more often produces more gains, since the body doesn’t get adapted. I personally prefer a moderately lean bulk followed by a slow diet phase designed to keep the new muscle. Done properly, alternating mass gain with proper dieting, the end result is more muscle mass. When I first started weight training in high school, I went from 150 to 175 in three months, without gaining fat, but I guess that was the early results phase.



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Author: admin | 18.09.2014



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